As a major ally of the US, Japan is facing pressure as it did not follow the US, the UK and the EU to sanction China in the name of responding to "genocide" or "forced labor" in Xinjiang, which were based on rumors and anti-China propaganda, and Chinese analysts said although Tokyo shares the US political stance on the Xinjiang matter, it would not take action as it wants to remain flexible on ties with China.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is under pressure to join other major Western countries in imposing sanctions on China, at a time when he prepares for his first face-to-face summit with US President Joe Biden, Bloomberg reported on Monday.
The domestic pressure was from some right-wing politicians. "Japan is the only G7 country not taking part in the sanctions," said Gen Nakatani, a former defense minister, who co-chairs a cross-party group of lawmakers on China policy, according to Bloomberg. "It's shameful for Japan to be seen as a country that's pretending not to know what's going on."
Japan can't follow its Western allies too closely, said Liu Jiangyong, vice dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University, adding that Japan is not like European countries, which have no geopolitical friction, sovereignty dispute, and historical problems with China. "China has too many weapons to fight back if Japan blindly follows Western-led sanctions."
In Japan, most media reports and politicians' comments about Xinjiang are similar to those in the US and Europe, because they used the similar source of information cooked up by some anti-China propaganda forces and overseas Xinjiang separatist groups. So, the political stance of the Japanese government or media will remain similar to the Western countries, Chinese analysts said.
Da Zhigang, chief expert at the Northeast Asian Strategic Studies Institute, told the Global Times on Tuesday that the Suga administration is trying to be cautious and will consider how to respond to external and internal pressure.
"After Suga took office, Japan's ties with China became increasingly problematic due to the long-standing dispute on the Diaoyu Islands and the interruption from the US. Under the serious epidemic situation and pressure on how to hold the Tokyo Olympics, Suga would not like to see another massive struggle with China only because of Xinjiang, an issue that Japan has no interest in," Da said.
Liu said if Tokyo really needs to take action on Xinjiang, it needs to be very careful to select the targets, because the sanction based on "rumors" and "lies" will not remain too long and will fade away or be overthrown after the facts surface.
Japan needs to consider "What if the US reaches agreement with China to ease tensions one day." So offending China, especially on matters like Xinjiang which are China's core interests, means "leaving no room to turn back," and the best choice for Japan is to "remain critical, but take no action."
Some Western countries have targeted Chinese officials and law enforcement agencies in Xinjiang, to minimize the damage to trade ties with China. And if Japan really needs to do something to respond to those pressures, it might take some similar actions. Of course, China will definitely retaliate, and how to avoid escalation would be a new headache for Japan, Da said.
The US and Japan issued a joint statement after holding their "2+2" Security Consultative Committee on March 16, saying that "China's behavior, where inconsistent with the existing international order, presents challenges to the international community. They also expressed concerns over issues related to Taiwan, the South China Sea and Xinjiang."
On March 17, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian criticized Japan's act of following the US tone. "Japan, driven by the selfish aim to check China's revitalization, willingly stoops to acting as a strategic vassal of the United States, going so far as to break faith, harm relations with China, invite the wolf into the house, and betray the collective interests of the region. Such despicable behavior is deeply unpopular."
Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations of the China Foreign Affairs University, said China-Japan ties have already been damaged due to the US interruption, so there is no need for Suga to add more damage, and the US won't cancel the US-Japan alliance only because Japan wants to remain flexible on Xinjiang. "But the international situation is unpredictable. There is no guarantee whether Japanese decision-makers will take risky action or not, so we suggest they need to consider the price they would pay before making a decision."